GOLF'S MISSING LINK
It's the final round at the Doral-Ryder Open, and Gary McCord is scatting. His solo begins as Peter Jacobsen, the hottest player on the PGA Tour, eyes a putt on the 12th green.
"He's in that ever-present Zone that these guys get into once in a while," the CBS golf announcer says softly. "It's hard to find out what the Zone is. It's a blending of color and the sounds are kind of soft. Your brain's organized. You have to figure out how to stay in it all the time."
McCord's British colleague, Ben Wright, pipes up.
"Have you been in that Zone, Gary?" he asks, tongue in cheek.
"Back in 1963, for about three and a half minutes," replies the 46-year-old McCord. "Boy, was I playing good."
There's painful subtext to his last comment. For many years, McCord was a nonwinning journeyman on the Tour.
Weeks earlier, he had typed something about the Zone into his IBM laptop, which he sometimes consults for fresh material during broadcasts. The words on the computer screen say, "A place beyond normal space where mind and body unite."
Although McCord has modified that definition today for public consumption, he hews to the theme. Millions are listening.
"It's amazing--the Zone," he continues. "If you're putting good and you're in that Zone, it doesn't matter how you hit it, it doesn't matter how you read it. You hit it and it just goes in. Most of the time, you're a mess. Peter is not a mess right now. You're in the Zone: You kick the ball and it will go in."
Jacobsen's putt should have been like most others, soon forgettable. But Gary McCord had made the moment meaningful.
Alas, the Zone works in mysterious ways. Jacobsen misses his six-footer and eventually loses the tournament by a stroke. TV golf announcers often spew more clichs than a Kenny G saxophone solo. McCord, however, is the Jimi Hendrix of his profession--you don't know where he's going, but you want to follow him there.
McCord at his best emits the sound of surprise during the eight minutes or so he's on the air each telecast. He uses offbeat metaphors and images to describe the polo-shirted wizards and their quest for birdies and bucks.
Because he is at once entertaining and knowing, McCord has become golf's most popular announcer. But those who tune in starting Thursday to the Masters--the sport's premier event--will not hear a peep out of him.
Just before the '86 Masters, Frank Chirkinian wanted me to meet [then-Masters chairman] Hord Hardin at Augusta. I'm wearing my Panama hat, floppy sweater, tennis shoes. We take a left down into the Catacombs, where the Druids roam, down a dark hallway. Creakkkkkkkk. A figure appears, backlit, a ghostly figure--Hord. It's me, Frank and Jim Nantz. I know I'm in the principal's office. There's a picture of Bobby Jones looking down at me. Hord asks how I'm doing. "I'm having fun." Nothing wrong with that, he says. Then it comes out. "But this is the Masters, this is about tradition." He goes on for 15 minutes, and it was beautiful. I was getting a bit teary-eyed myself. "Gary, I'd just like you to cool it a little bit." I tell myself, "You have to do something stupid." I stand up and say, "You mean I can't wear the clown outfit on Saturday?" "No." "But then I'm gonna lose the deposit." Frank's head is in his hands. That was the beginning of the end for me there.
McCord's unceremonious ouster from the broadcast team at Augusta National last August is not news to golf fans. But for everyone else, here's the skinny:
The greens at Augusta are fast. Last year, they apparently were even slicker than usual, which merited comment. But longtime CBS golf producer-director Frank Chirkinian didn't hire McCord to be trite.
Instead of droning, "The putts are moving faster than ever this year," McCord suggested mischievously that groundskeepers had rubbed "bikini wax" on the greens to speed them up.
And instead of resorting to, "He's dead," he observed that "body bags" awaited a golfer fool enough to overshoot the 17th green.
At the time, McCord says, he thought the lines were cleverly benign.
"I'd been reading an article up in People about women's hair and body massages," McCord recalls. "Facials. Electrolysis. Hot bikini wax. Smooth. Slick. Like glass. Speed. Putts. 'Bikini wax' rang a bell with me. So I ran with it."
His second sin that day last April came as a Spaniard named Jose Maria Olazabel studied a shot on 17:
"Jose and his caddie are in the fairway talking in Spanish," McCord recounts. "I say, 'Let me interpret what they're saying for you. There's a little knoll over the green, straight down to nothing. Hit it over, it's gonna be down there with the body bags. The dead are down there with a tag on their toes. Stay short.' That was it." (The commentary was prescient; Olazabel played it safe, stayed alive and won the tournament.)
You should know this about the Masters: It is the Super Bowl, Indy 500 and Wimbledon of golf rolled into one. The tournament's winner celebrates, however, not with raucous champagne showers, but by somberly donning a green jacket.
The lords of the Masters have issued a long list of dos and don'ts for its TV announcers. No one is to use the phrase "prize money" during a telecast. Flowers are not to be called "flowers"--they are rose bushes, azaleas, etc. The word "beautiful" is encouraged.
Years ago, the tournament committee had placed McCord on double-secret probation for other irreverent remarks. "Bikini wax" and "body bags" put the committee over the edge.
After the tournament ended, CBS weathered Augusta hot air. No more McCord here, the Masters told the network. End of discussion.
Golfer Tom Watson injected himself into the fray with letters to Masters chairman Jack Stephens and to CBS' Frank Chirkinian. In one missive, Watson called McCord "the Howard Stern of golf," and urged his removal from Masters telecasts.
In terms of revenue and prestige, the Masters means more to CBS than any sporting event except the NCAA basketball tourney. The network sacrificed McCord, just as it had jettisoned commentator Jack Whitaker in the mid-1960s. Then, the tournament chairman had demanded Whitaker's removal after he referred to a crush of spectators as a "mob scene."
Years passed before Whitaker got another chance at Augusta. It isn't known if McCord will ever get a reprieve.
But shed no tears for him.
McCord's exile from the Masters has enhanced his image as a maverick--and his marketability. He's a one-man cottage industry, pitching golf products, giving speeches and starring at lucrative golf shindigs with corporate wheels.
"I couldn't have paid the Masters any amount of money for the publicity I'm getting," McCord says. "It's the greatest publicity stunt of all time, and it wasn't a stunt. It's gotten me out of the confines that I work in--right into mainstream America."
He has one of the best gigs going, with or without the Masters, and he knows it. This, McCord says, is the best time of his life.
He's happily married to an unforgettable woman named Diane, dotes on his four granddaughters, and has beautiful homes in Scottsdale and Vail, Colorado. He still plays occasionally in PGA tournaments, and his golf game is in fine shape.
But not so long ago, the only Zone that McCord knew was hosted by Rod Serling.
In the mid-1980s, his game was on life support and he'd pulled the plug on his first marriage. He was as well-known for being a magician as he was for being a pro golfer. McCord could quote lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke and Chevy Chase in the same breath, but that didn't help his depleted bank account.
Then, in 1985, CBS gave McCord a microphone and told him to be himself.
The hire paid off for all concerned.
Viewers perennially give CBS the highest marks of the five networks that televise golf. And in surveys conducted by golf journals, McCord has become the fans' favorite announcer; 84 percent sided with him in one poll taken after his dismissal from the Masters.
"Gary is the best thing since sliced bread," someone typed last month on America Online's golf bulletin board. "When the guy on screen lets us down, Gary is there to let everyone know that the pro still puts his pants on the same way we do."
Another correspondent begged to differ: "By any purist golfer's standard, Gary has been offensive, vituperous [sic] and ungentlemanly an untold number of times. Who does he think he is! Tom Watson obviously decided that someone had to take a stand for propriety in golf."
Like most of his peers in the golf broadcasting business, McCord is a middle-aged white guy. But he's been able to tap into an audience that considers the sport--and McCord--cool.
"You've made so many Sunday afternoons so much more pleasant," a Northwestern University co-ed wrote him last August, one of about 700 letters he received in the Masters' aftermath. "I appreciate every crazy line that comes out of your mouth."
Many older viewers--such as grandparents Shirley and Marjorie Carter of Goshen, Indiana--are behind McCord, too.
"The Masters committee of arrogant, noble elitists have spoken!" the Carters wrote him. "Does this pompous group really believe the Masters to be so perfect as to be elevated above criticism? We enjoy your tournament expertise, and wish you the best in your work."
McCord makes do with a slightly nasal vocal quality that doesn't match his more-mellifluous CBS peers Verne Lundquist, Jim Nantz and Ben Wright.
His sculpted handlebar mustache also sets McCord apart.
Whether he's broadcasting or golfing with bigwigs, his marching orders at all times are, Gary, be Gary.
For this, Gary, we will pay you handsomely.
The corporate get-togethers have become a gold mine for sports-marketing firms and popular golf personalities. Companies use the "outings" to build rapport with clients. McCord plays a round with the clients, then gives a dinner speech.
He's there to make folks laugh--at him, at themselves, at the maddening futility of the sport.
McCord laughs, too--all the way to the bank. He collects an average fee of $10,000 for each daylong gathering. If he's just giving a speech, his check is $5,000. He did about 20 outings in 1994, says his agent, Barry Terjesen, plus five speeches. (McCord also performed gratis at about 30 functions last year, most of them junior golf clinics and other pretournament activities.)
Though he is truly funny, McCord also cultivates his wild-man image. And like many to whom success comes late in life, part of him always stands sentry. He explains:
"When the CBS job came along--total luck--I told myself, 'You will not join the long list of brain-dead announcers out there. Do not blow it, jerk.' And I've always kept this in mind: No one gives you anything in golf. Ever."
I think what Gary said was wrong, it was way the hell out of line. Gary--the greens are not that fast at Augusta. And if you knew anything about greenskeeping, you'd know there are no body bags by 17--ever. Tommy Watson and I have decided that in a year, maybe two years, you can be allowed to caddie again at Augusta. But for now, this year's Caddyshack award goes to the greatest golf announcer in the United States of America, Gary McCord.
--Comedian Bill Murray, at February's Northern California Golf Writer's Association dinner
JANUARY 9, SCOTTSDALE
Gary McCord rarely sits still, even between golf seasons. He's spending the day at Grayhawk, a shiny new course in north Scottsdale.
A crew is to videotape several 90-second segments of McCord and his colleague Peter Kostis for a show called Arizona Golf. But all McCord really wants to do is work on his golf game.
He and Kostis--also a TV golf announcer--recently opened a "learning center" at the course, a place to instruct advanced golfers. Today, McCord leaves the teaching to Kostis and a member of their staff.
Instead, he's at the driving range honing his own game for upcoming Tour events in Tucson, Phoenix and Southern California. (McCord's CBS schedule will allow him to play in six or seven PGA tournaments this year.) He's placed two bath towels about 125 yards away, one about ten yards in front of the other. He's aiming between the towels with a pitching wedge.
McCord is wearing a Planet Earth cap, Italian slacks--made of 95 percent summer gaberdine wool, 4 percent cashmere, 1 percent mink, he says--and a multicolored golf shirt.
He's a trim six-foot-two, but seems taller. These days, McCord's swing is smooth, without frills. Watching him swing so effortlessly, it's hard to fathom that his long career on the Tour was marked by far more disappointment than success.
McCord's Bob Ueckerlike line, "I was a professional golfer for 16 years, though I can't prove it," is always good for a laugh. So is, "There are 17 caddies on the all-time money list ahead of me."
But he's dead serious about his golf game; always has been.
"Playing the Tour for a few weeks every year is a reality check," he says, firing away at the towels as he talks. "When every shot counts for something, the trolls and the gargoyles, the demons in my attic, are bound to come out. I think, 'I remember this game. It's evil!'"
Next to McCord, a staff member is instructing an LPGA golfer on her grip and stance.
"I want you to go to the library and look up a book on Gestalt philosophy," McCord tells the assistant during a break.
"Really, it will help. Basically, it says to go to extremes to make your points. Don't bother with nuances. Exaggerate the stance change, that sort of thing. You need to teach the big picture, the whole equation, rather than just the sum of the parts."
"How long you been doing that?" McCord shouts.
"Doing what?" the guy asks anxiously. "What?"
McCord doesn't answer, and speeds up the cart path.
"Golfers are fragile beyond comprehension," he says, laughing devilishly. "You can really screw with a golfer big-time. Any golfer. We're only as secure as our last shot."
After lunch, McCord heads to the putting green, where the video unit for Arizona Golf is setting up. He steps into a bunker and sandblasts a ball to within six feet of a hole--with a blade putter. He taught himself the trick years ago, and has taken more than a few pesos from fellow pros foolish enough to wager with him.
The crew is ready.
"Hi, I'm Gary McCord, and I'm an idiot," McCord says during a sound check. "Or maybe, 'Hi, I'm Gary McCord, and I've got crotch rot.' Nah."
As the camera operators crack up, McCord affects an East Indian accent.
"You must become one with the ball before you hit it into the Ganges."
When the tape starts to roll, McCord and Kostis run through a few hastily conceived sketches--how to correct a hook, how to line up a putt. They can do this stuff in their sleep. But something's missing.
"We need a tag line," McCord announces, "something to remember us by."
He huddles with Kostis.
"If you're gonna play good golf," the two then say in unison, "you have to practice hard."
They pause, then do a goofy little swing and chime, "Schwing!"
"That's stupid," McCord says, as the taping ends. "Perfect!"
The show's director asks McCord off-camera if anyone could do the suggested drills.
"A short gay leprechaun can do these drills," scoffs McCord. "Of course, anyone can do these drills. That's the point."
It's 5 p.m. McCord grabs a four-iron--his favorite club--plays some air guitar with it, then ambles to his white 1974 Mercedes 450SL.
He's owned the car since 1978. When he lived in California, McCord put a customized "NO WINS" license plate on it. He has the same plate on order in Arizona.
I went as far in golf as I could with what I had. Then, in the late 1970s, I started getting worse. I remember practicing, really paranoid. As soon as something didn't work, I'd try something else. I was in this negative, Band-Aid sort of fix mentality, trying to figure out some sort of swing that could get me through the round. I got lost in this abyss of my ruminations . . . and I didn't have anybody to go to for help. That was my downfall.
Gary McCord's mother knows when she suspected he might have a future in golf.
"I was taking a golf class one summer," Ruth McCord says from her home in Riverside, California, "and we practiced on a football field. Gary was about 10. He had this little sawed-off club that his dad had given him. We were trying to hit a shot through the goal posts. Gary says, 'I can do it.' 'Sure, you can.' But he did."
He grew up in a middle-class home in Garden Grove, California, the elder of Don and Ruth McCord's two children. His lifelong love affair with sports started when he was a boy.
McCord was a star baseball pitcher until too many curve balls wrecked his arm. With a few tips from his father, he soon turned to golf as his main sport by the time he was 15 or so.
As a high school freshman, he told the golf coach at Garden Grove High School that he could shoot in the mid-80s. He couldn't break 90, and couldn't make the team. But he kept playing.
"Golfers were considered pencil-necked geeks," he says, "but I played other sports, so I didn't have that marked sign around my neck, 'Nerd.' Something lured me into it. It wasn't structured. All of a sudden, you do what you want to do. And if you put out more effort, you'll do better."
In his sophomore year, the family moved to Riverside, where McCord soon became a fixture at a public course called Fairmont Park. He worked there sometimes to pay his way.
"I'd play 54 holes straight if I had time," McCord says. "Golf became a virus I couldn't get rid of. I didn't have time to get in trouble because I was in sports day and night."
His skill soared, as did his confidence: "When I was 18 or so, sometimes I'd go to the practice green with a ball and no putter. I'd practice picking the ball out of the hole, pick one up stiff-legged, another with a double-kneed dip. Pretty cocky, huh? Pretty Zen."
McCord shone as a prep golfer at Ramona High, winning a scholarship to the University of California-Riverside. But college was not an easy ride, especially because of dramatic changes in his personal life. At 19, he married his 17-year-old girlfriend and became a father. (His only child, daughter Christa, recently gave birth to her fourth daughter.)
It was the mid-'60s, but McCord missed the social turmoil that dominated the era.
"I didn't have a clue what was going on out there," he says. "I had a wife and baby, was going to college, playing on the golf team, doing laundry at night for my scholarship, cleaning a restaurant when I woke up, playing for side money to support my family. I didn't have time to even think about why people were protesting."
As a senior, McCord won the NCAA Division II golf championship. He graduated from Cal-Riverside in 1971 with a degree in economics. That fall, McCord attended the PGA Tour Qualifying School in Florida. Paired with Lanny Wadkins, who's still on the Tour, McCord played terribly and missed the cut.
"I was light-years away from where I had to be," he says. "It was like I'd been isolated in some village. It was either be a local big shot or keep after it. I kept playing in local minitours, figuring stuff out."
In 1973, when McCord was 25, he earned his PGA Tour card.
The Tour in those days was far from the lucrative game it is today. To thrive, pros had to consistently finish in the upper echelon. McCord averaged 96th on the money list from 1975 to 1984, good for an average of $35,000 a year, which left little or nothing after expenses. His second-place finishes at the Greater Milwaukee Open, in 1975 and 1977, were his best showings.
"When I met Gary 20 years ago," says his caddie, Steve Lewison, "he spent a lot of time thinking about what he had just done or what could be rather than being in the here and now. His mind was too active. He plays a better mind game now."
Though he kids incessantly about his ineptitude on the Tour, McCord can't hide the frustration he felt then and occasionally revisits today.
"I was very, very narcissistic," he says, "constantly trying to figure out what I could do, always thinking I wasn't good enough. It started growing in me like algae--`You can't, you don't.' But I kept hanging in there. I needed a hook to stay around the game, and I don't mean a golf shot."
McCord became a magician.
"My wife had gotten me some stupid tricks as a present, easy stuff," he says. "Then I met Mike Rogers, one of the best magicians around. He taught me things. I'd practice on the road three or four hours a day. I'd try my stuff on the players. Joined the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Then I started making a little money during 45-minute cocktail shows at a lounge after a round. I became more comfortable with my magic than with my golf."
In 1985, he was, as usual, short of cash as he flew to the Memorial Tournament in Ohio. The flight turned out to be a lucky one. He's told this story countless times. But it still invigorates him:
"I saw Pat Summerall and Frank Chirkinian on the plane. They're first-class; I'm back there with the terrorists, dead-flat broke, trying to figure out a scam with CBS. I ask Frank if I can help in some way. A few days later, he says, 'Go to 16.' I think I'm gonna be a spotter. Then, boom! Verne [Lundquist] goes, 'Gary, what about this putt?' I look down at the green. There's nobody there. Verne's got this look like the dog just died. I'm thinking it must have been that stuff I did in the '60s. Frank yells in my ear, 'Talk!' I wing it. 'He'll be putting downhill toward the water.' Then I find out we're also calling 12, even though we're sitting at 16. Ohhhh. . . . But I had guessed right. I think, 'What a job--this is like Disneyland.'"
Gary's got the best job in the world now, but we know how tough it was on him on the Tour. It kept grinding on him. He'd just go places and stare. His past helps him now, I think. Frank Chirkinian knew what kind of personality Gary had when he hired him. Now, Frank has to watch him like a baseball manager watches a wild fastball pitcher. "Just let loose. I'll let you know if you go awry." With Gary, you're not going to get just, "This is a 30-foot putt that goes right." It gets so darned boring. My son isn't boring.
JANUARY 19-22, TUCSON The Northern Telecom Open in Tucson is one of the PGA Tour's first events of the year. It's played at two courses, Tucson National and Starr Pass.
McCord loves to play the early-season tournaments because many of the regular Tour pros aren't at their best yet. He figures it gives him a better opportunity of finishing in the money.
He's playing with Tommy Armour III and Ian Baker-Finch. Armour is a burly, chain-smoking Texan who's had an up-and-down career on the Tour. Baker-Finch is a tall, handsome Australian who won the British Open in 1991 and has done little since. Baker-Finch has hired a psychologist to follow him on the course and soothe his addled psyche.
An announcer introduces the threesome to about 100 spectators who have gathered on a glorious Thursday morning at Tucson National.
"I didn't know McCord still played," one spectator says to another.
"I didn't know he ever played," his friend replies.
McCord gets warm applause, tips his wide-brimmed hat, and outdrives Armour and Baker-Finch. His ball, however, rolls into a bunker. He hits his second shot to within ten feet of the pin, then knocks in his putt for a birdie.
But McCord's putting--ordinarily a strength--fails him. "Wanna putt for me?" he asks a spectator in disgust after missing one on 10.
McCord reaches the 12th four shots over par. Though he's struggling, his mind is clearer on the course than it used to be. He rallies and makes four late birdies in a row to salvage a 72, even par.
Like most of his fellow players, McCord goes to the practice range immediately after the round to hit balls. "Most of the time," he says, "you hit to clear your head, make yourself a little brain-dead in a healthy sort of way."
In the words of golf announcers everywhere, including McCord, he's "flat stroking it," that is, playing marvelously.
But McCord can't escape golf's trolls and gargoyles, either. The imps come out in full force Friday, on the 12th hole at Starr Pass. It starts with a booming drive about 275 yards up the middle. But his second shot on the uphill par-5 hits a cart path and bounces into the desert about 40 yards from the pin.
He still has a shot at the green, but it's a dirt lie over a prickly pear cactus.
McCord's ball nicks the prickly pear and disappears into rough a few yards away. He hacks at the offending cactus with his club once, then again. A hunk flies past an elderly woman's head. Another piece bounces off her husband's chest. McCord offers no apology.
He flies his next shot over the green. His fifth shot is a mediocre chip. He needs to sink a 15-footer to save bogey. The devils are dancing in his head.
But he buries the putt. This sport is twisted: If McCord had missed and double-bogeyed, things likely would have gotten very ugly. Instead, he ends with an excellent 68.
He scores a 71 in the third round.
On Sunday, McCord has a 9:53 a.m. tee time at Tucson National. He also has an 8 a.m. speech at La Paloma Resort, 15 minutes from the course. The $5,000 payday for just being Gary is too much to pass up.
McCord's early-morning audience is the Master Contractors of the Firestone Building Products Company. He zips through his pathetic golf career shtick, his hiring by CBS and so on. The material is good, but his comic's timing is what rouses the sleepy group of 300.
McCord asks for questions after 30 minutes and gets them. The first one: "What happened at the Masters, Gary?"
"I thought I might get that question," McCord replies drolly, earning a laugh. "Whatever I do for the rest of my life, I'm always gonna be the guy who got kicked off the Masters. But I'm not complaining. It's made me lots and lots of money."
At 9 a.m., he excuses himself and jogs to his car. He arrives at Tucson National at 9:20, scurries to the range for a few practice shots, and makes it to the first tee with eight minutes to spare.
Diane McCord has driven down from Scottsdale to watch her husband play. Those who know the McCords well have a standard response when Diane's name comes up: "You think Gary's crazy . . ."
Actually, Diane is a gregarious woman with a streak of zany--which makes her and her husband a good fit. As McCord begins his final round, Diane relates how the couple started dating in the mid-1980s.
Diane had been engaged to marry an acquaintance of McCord. But a week before the wedding, her fianc was killed in a fall from a horse. After paying his respects, McCord waited about a year, then called her. Diane thought he was asking her out, which was fine. But she wasn't pleased to find McCord surrounded by other women when she showed up at the appointed restaurant.
As her husband plays the eighth hole, Diane relives the "date" in a giggly whisper: "The other girls were drinking Deep Throat specials, and they were drooling them all down their fronts. I ordered one and drank it down, no problem. I told Gary, 'By the way, I never spill a drop.' Then I got up and left."
Their next meeting, some months later, apparently went more smoothly.
They married in 1989.
As his final round progresses, McCord finds himself momentarily in that mythic Zone. Birdie follows birdie, and his name appears on the leader board--six strokes behind leader Phil Mickelson with eight holes to go.
His play draws an ever-growing gallery.
McCord ends with a 66, tying the day's low score. He finishes eight strokes behind winner Mickelson--in a tie for 17th place--and collects $15,813.
"I was stroking it pretty good today, baby," he says after the round. "Flat stroking it."
When I was 25, I thought a high-profile Hollywood sponsor could open up doors for me. One day, I got a call. "Hello, Gary, this is Lawrence, ah, Welk." Yeah, right. But it is. So I sign with him. Later, he says, "Ah, Gary, come on down to the, ah, studio, and, ah, bring your clubs." Then it's, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a new member of our, ah, musical family--Gary McCord." I'm wearing a floral polyester shirt, bell-bottoms and four-inch-high wooden platform shoes. My Fu Manchu is running wild. Lawrence opens a curtain. He's got a bull's eye set up about 30 feet away. "Ah, Gary, I want you to, ah, hit the bull's eye." No rehearsal. The audience is right there--400 elderly folks. I'm thinking, "You're gonna kill someone." I break out in a wicked polyester sweat. Bang! I nail the bottom rung. But that's not good enough. "Ah, Gary. I want you to, ah, hit the bull's eye." I say, "Why don't we have a member of your musical family come out here, one of your dancing girls?" I never did shoot at it again.
FEBRUARY 2, PEBBLE BEACH "McCord, are you there, goddamnit?" CBS golf chief Frank Chirkinian roars into the headphones minutes before the opening at Pebble Beach.
Gary McCord is seated in the tower behind the 16th green. He's wearing headphones, but they're not working.
It's a sunny Thursday afternoon, Opening Day 1995 for the CBS/USA Network golf team. (USA "borrows" the CBS unit for the first two days of coverage at several PGA events.)
A student of pop culture, McCord has brought reading material to fill slack time: People, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest--and two books. One is titled Dimboxes, Epopts and Other Quidams--Words to Describe Indescribable People. The other is David Letterman's Top Ten Lists, Volume 2.
Chirkinian tries again to get McCord's attention. "Do you hear us, you idiot?"
McCord's headphones suddenly start operating.
"Oh, Bentley," he tells Ben Wright, who's sitting in the tower at 17. "I wanted to tell you. I feel a certain sexual tension between us this year."
"Holy Christmas," Wright says.
He and McCord have been feigning exasperation with the other for years, on and off the air. Their mock mutual disdain is famous in golf circles.
"You two are not going to be sharing a house in Augusta this year," Chirkinian notes. "You, McCord, are not going to be sharing anything in Augusta. One minute to air. Have fun--where it's appropriate."
The monitor in McCord's tower displays a stunning view of the Monterey Peninsula. A swell of jazz-lite golf music fills the headphones.
Chirkinian tells the USA anchor to start talking, and he does: "One of the most spectacular sites in the world, creating an almost perfect symmetry between man and nature . . ."
It used to be known as Bing Crosby's "clambake," which fit the tourney's festive ambiance. Bing is long gone, and the event now is called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. But it retains an informal charm missing at most golf events.
That's because famous amateurs play with the pros for the whole tournament. The throngs rub shoulders with Hollywood stars and politicos. This year, Don Johnson, Jeff Daniels, George Bush, Joe Pesci, Jack Lemmon--he's always here--and homeboy Clint Eastwood, among others, are on hand.
But the star of stars is Bill Murray.
Remember when he serenaded the elderly woman in the bunker at the 1994 tourney? Almost everyone adored the moment, which CBS must have replayed 1,000 times. But Murray's future at Pebble seemed doubtful after then-PGA commissioner Deane Beman blasted the Caddyshack star for his antics.
Murray left Pebble last year railing against the Tour's "Nazi mentality." Beman, however, retired, and Murray's back.
So is McCord, who first played this storied course when he was 15. In 1974, his rookie year, McCord was tied for the lead with Johnny Miller going into the final round. He shot an 80 and slipped to 24th, but no matter.
McCord loves this course.
The 16th hole is a beauty, a 402-yard par-4 with a green protected by sand and cypresses. The CBS tower behind the hole can accommodate a camera operator, announcer, spotter and a guest.
With his laptop computer, literature, television monitor and Frank Chirkinian's omnipresent instruction, McCord is right at home.
"It's the guy from Dumb and Dumber," he says as actor Jeff Daniels walks up the 16th fairway. "It's my favorite movie."
"Well, it would be," Ben Wright chimes in, his British accent oozing sarcasm. "I'll get to it sometime."
"I've seen it three times," McCord shoots back. "You'll love the plot."
Chirkinian alerts everyone over his headphones to an upcoming ad.
"We'll really get some excitement going now," says the CBS golf boss, making a little joke for the crew. "We'll do a couple of promos. Then to commercial, as we see a couple of sea lions relieving themselves. . . . Whew."
During the break, McCord watches his monitor as talk-show host Maury Povich--Connie Chung's mate--gets ready to putt on another hole. "`Connie, this putt's a bitch--but don't tell anyone,'" McCord says, practicing a possible line. "Won't use that one. It would absolutely kill Frank."
Suspecting that the sodden greens at Pebble would be treacherous, McCord already has several lines on his laptop screen ready for possible use:
"It's like putting on two-day-old oatmeal."
"Like putting over lumpy Hollandaise sauce."
"Like putting over warm dinner rolls."
"Just before you putt, you receive the Miranda warning."
"Looked like a frozen ham rolling up there."
"Like putting over cottage cheese."
Although he uses none of these lines during the tournament, their presence illustrates his attention to detail and sense of fun.
Many golfers wave at McCord as they pass beneath the tower to 17. In an unspoken ritual, some toss a ball up to him, especially after a bad hole.
Aside from Tom Watson and probably a few others, most Tour pros express respect for McCord. And it's not just because he's quick-witted.
In the early 1980s, the Tour expanded the list of automatic tournament qualifiers from the top 60 annual money winners to the top 125. McCord--then on the Tour Policy Board--was instrumental in convincing the PGA to go that route.
"Most people think of Gary as this goofy guy in the booth," says Irish-born pro David Feherty. "He is goofy. But he's also someone who made it possible for a lot of us to make great livings. We won't forget that."
Midway through the day's coverage, the Goodyear blimp zeroes in on a pod of gray whales. McCord asks his spotter, Karel Schliksbier, to find out everything he can about the migrating mammals.
"You want the whole blowjob, don't you?" asks Karel, who has spotted for football announcers John Madden and Pat Summerall for years.
"I want to know how many babies they have, how much milk they drink, everything, yes," McCord replies. "I'll kill them with this thing."
Within a day, McCord learns from Schliksbier and literature he digs up that the whales are up to 50 feet long, weigh 40 tons, migrate between Baja and Alaska, mate by rolling at the bottom of the ocean, and eat mud.
McCord types these facts into his computer. But, like the one-liners about the greens, he never gets the opportunity to spout them. "No big deal," he says later. "There will be another year. That's the beauty of this job."
After the telecast, McCord races back to the CBS trailers. He's promised to go on-line for an hour with the Prodigy computer network. There, two women from Prodigy read incoming questions to McCord, then type in his answers.
"Say, 'Hi, Dysfunctionally yours, Gary McCord,' okay?" he starts.
One question: Who would you like to play a round of golf with, dead or living?
Most of the 148 questions, though, are about the Masters and Tom Watson.
"Will you be going to Georgia that week?" someone from Arkansas asks him.
"I will be nowhere near Augusta," McCord replies. "They have guard dogs and an old sweater that has my scent."
"Will Tom Watson win another event?"
"Yes, but he won't be receiving a Christmas card from my family."
McCord and Watson have spoken here at Pebble Beach for the first time since Watson's vicious letter to Frank Chirkinian became public. McCord says he asked Watson why he'd backstabbed him.
"Tom said I wouldn't have listened to him, anyway," McCord says, forgetting his on-line duties briefly. "He thinks I'm an evil to the game."
He ends the Prodigy session with sage advice: "Keep your putting low."
On Saturday, McCord is assigned as usual to the 17th tee, a daunting par-3 with an ocean backdrop. For the past few years, he's invited golfers there to chat with him on a sofa planted on the tee box.
This year, however, he tries something fresh: McCord does Letterman.
There's the familiar desk, an interview chair, even a jar of pencils and an old-fashioned microphone. Behind McCord, a painter named Leigh creates a colorful montage on a large canvas.
It's theatre of the absurd, Saturday afternoon on CBS.
During the telecast, McCord gabs with an ex-president of the United States, two Academy Award winners, a Wimbledon tennis champion, a Hollywood starlet and several pro golfers. Former vice president Dan Quayle takes a seat, saying to the camera, "I'm with Gary McCord. This makes my day."
That's Clint Eastwood's line, isn't it? But Clint's back on 14.
Bill Murray marches to 17 wearing an oversize beret that resembles a putting green, complete with pin and ball.
McCord crawls under his desk, as if to hide from his fellow raconteur. The mob scene--it's okay to use that phrase here--is delighted. Murray soon "finds" McCord, and the two carry on until the telecast ends.
MARCH 23, SCOTTSDALE
Gary McCord's strong showing at Tucson had given him hope for continued success on the links. But he's missed the cut at each of the last four tournaments he played.
Now, after playing and broadcasting golf in Arizona, California and Florida for two months straight, McCord has come home for a few weeks.
This morning, he's lounging around his home in a gated subdivision near Taliesin West. Diane is in Colorado visiting friends. The McCords live well, but not extravagantly.
Signs that this is a golfing couple are scattered throughout the house. McCord, for example, has a six-iron in his main bathroom. "Always practicing my grip," he says.
Though McCord loves such bands as Hootie and the Blowfish--he's golfed with Hootie himself--he's chosen elevator jazz as background this morning. Golf music.
"Helps me chill," he explains. "Got to chill every once in a while."
McCord has converted a small back room into his office. The cluttered space includes more mementos of his broadcasting career than of the days when he played golf full-time. There are framed pictures, boxes filled with letters from his fans, but only a few golf trophies.
Before he and Diane moved here from California last year, McCord gave most of his golf memorabilia to his gardener. He kept only his NCAA championship plaque, and a large trophy for winning a satellite Tour event in 1991.
The phone rings constantly. Reporters from Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, the London Sunday Mirror and Golf Week call within an hour with similar questions: What are you going to do during the Masters? Do you hate the men who run Augusta? Do you hate Tom Watson?
McCord tries to be tactful: "They run a great tournament, but it's an autocracy, not a democracy. They can do what they want. Hooray for them. And Tom is entitled to his opinion . . ."
He repeats that he doesn't know what he's going to do during the Masters; he's a man without a country club.
McCord retreats to his garage, ignoring the ever-ringing phone. He pulls out two large, banged-up metal suitcases and opens them.
The contents tell the story of McCord's mercurial adulthood: piles of yellowed clippings from his days on the Tour, long-forgotten snapshots, handwritten notes to himself--"Don't ever give up," one undated reminder says.
There, gathering dust, are props for the magic tricks that sustained him during lean times.
Sitting on the concrete floor, McCord tries a sleight of hand with a deck of cards. His face lights up when it works to perfection. He has an epiphany.
"When I play golf too well," he says, "it's almost too good to be true. Then I'll hit a bad spell, always. . . . It makes me realize that everything is temporary, everything isn't always going to be ideal. But right now, in my life, I'm doing just what I want to do.
"Frightening, isn't it?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich Seeks Removal of AZCC Chair Susan Bitter Smith
Thu., Dec. 10, 6:25pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
- Broken-Heart Syndrome Genes Discovered by Phoenix Researchers
- Arizona State Fair Goat GusGus Kids Around in Video After Traumatic Kidnapping